Convention Highlights, Lowlights

In this week's Barbershop roundtable, the guys look back on the Democratic National Convention. They also discuss the launch of the new NFL season. Host Michel Martin checks in with writer Jimi Izrael, former Obama administration advisor Corey Ealons, National Review contributor Mario Loyola, and Univision journalist Fernando Vila.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop. That's where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. He's here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for the Obama administration. He's currently a senior vice president with the communications firm VOX Global. He's with us from Charlotte.

Mario Loyola is a former speechwriter for the Pentagon and a former foreign policy advisor to the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. He's now a contributor to National Review. He's joining from Austin, Texas. And from New York, Fernando Vila: He's managing editor of Univision news in English.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

FERNANDO VILA: Que pasa?

COREY EALONS: Hey, what's going on?

IZRAEL: Making it work, brother. Making it work. All right, well, let's get things started. You all know the Democratic National Convention wrapped up last night with President Barack Obama's speech accepting the nomination. We heard some of the pro speechwriters earlier in the program giving their opinions. Now it gets real. We're going to talk to real people.

MARTIN: I think they're very real, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Well, I mean, they're not me. OK?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK, fine.

IZRAEL: You know, anyway, Michel, we got some tape, yeah?

MARTIN: Yes, we do. Real tape.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: He talked about the economy. He talked about Republican plans. I'll just play a short clip for people who didn't hear. It was a lengthy speech, so this is just a short clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All they have to offer is the same prescriptions they've had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high, try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning.

IZRAEL: Well, thanks for that, Michel. You know, I love Barack Obama in terms of his ability - I mean, because he gets it. This is theater. I mean, he gets it. This is all the "American Idol," you know, to the 10th power. And he knows how to give that kind of TV sex appeal. You know, but for me and for a lot of other people, you know, that polish can sometime come across as insincere.

And I thought that was Bill Clinton's strength that, you know, he went off script, but I knew it was him, and he had that - Bill Clinton generally has that. I mean, he's a fantastic speaker, and I think it's his ability to come off as that guy at the corner of the bar who talks too much, anyway, but he's worth listening to. You know him, and you tolerate.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: I mean, he's not Cliff Clavin. I mean, you know him and you love him. And, you know, given your frame of mind at that time, you'll hear what he has to say, and I think that's Bill Clinton's strength, I think Obama's weakness. President Obama's weakness is his polish, but that's just my opinion. Corey Ealons, you used to be a communication advisor for the Obama administration. How do you rate his speech?

EALONS: I think the president did exactly what he needed to do last night, and Bill Clinton did exactly what he needed to do Wednesday night, and Michelle Obama did exactly what she needed to do on Monday night. It was a tremendous buildup over the course of the three days leading up to the president's speech last night, and what you saw in that little light moment was a little bit of that Obama swagger.

You know, everybody - everybody likes to talk about Obama when he gets out of the big car and he's walking, he's got a little bit of George Jefferson pimp going on, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

EALONS: That's what you saw in that little moment last night, and it was revealing because it's saying hey, guys, there is a clear contrast here, and we've spent three days laying this thing out. And if you don't get it by now, then there's not a whole lot I can do for you. But there is a real choice here.

So I thought it was a great speech. And while it did disappoint some people because they expected the loftiness of '04 or even '08, at the end of the day, I think he did what he needed to do, which was just to make the case. And by the way, remember, Obama asked for your vote last night in his speech, which I thought that was very interesting, because you know what? Mitt Romney not once asked for the people's vote in his acceptance speech in Tampa. Very telling, right there.

IZRAEL: You know, his - Obama's gait and his posture certainly did exude confidence. So there's that.

MARTIN: Can I just - I'm sorry I have to ask this, but Mario, Mario, you know, I can't help myself. You know what George W. Bush said in his last acceptance speech, his last speech at the Republican Convention, he said: You know what they call swagger in Texas?

MARIO LOYOLA: Beer?

MARTIN: Walking.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm sorry, I just had to say that.

LOYOLA: And he's not exaggerating, either. That's really true, you have to learn to walk a certain way, or people know you're a tourist.

MARTIN: I'd be impressed if W could spell swagger, but...

Stop, stop.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Stop it.

IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, you're a former advisor for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. Did Obama give the GOP anything to worry about? Y'all shook at all?

LOYOLA: Well, it was interesting. I mean, the GOP convention had to accomplish something very different than what the Democrats had to accomplish. I think Obama needed to sort of re-emerge as this strong, inspiring leader of the movement. And, you know, now it's - he's battle-hardened, and the troops have been, you know, at war for four years. And it sort of reminded me almost of the St. Crispins day speech at the end of "Henry V." And the purpose was rouse the troops and get them, you know, get them ready for the battle that's coming, and I think that it really worked in that respect. And I think that to the extent that the Democrats came into the convention somewhat demoralized - at least that's how it seemed, I think, to many conservatives, I think that their coming out of it reenergized and focused.

But on the other hand, you know, it's the same, you know, that lack of intellectual engagement, there was a lot more of that in Clinton's speech. You know, Obama sort of has throughout the whole campaign systematically mischaracterized conservative positions, taking credit for stuff that he really had nothing to do with, and those are the points where we can attack him on substance. And so we're - I think that the conservatives are looking forward to a tough fight but it's going to be a close one.

MARTIN: I just have to say that the complaints about mischaracterization of facts is one that has been leveled consistently at the speakers at the Republican Convention, particularly Paul Ryan. And also I just, you know, feel that that has to be said.

IZRAEL: So everybody's pointing fingers at everybody.

MARTIN: Oh, well, I think this is a matter of degree, of what you consider to be a substantive, you know, substantive - a mischaracterization, let's put it that way - as opposed to an outright falsehood. I mean, and that is something we're not going to resolve here. I mean the particular argument, of course, is over Medicare and how the, you know, changes to the Medicare program are being characterized by both sides. OK.

IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: All right. That's all I had to say.

IZRAEL: I thank you.

MARTIN: Fernando?

IZRAEL: Fernando?

VILA: I liked the speech. I think he had a key line which was, stop blaming welfare recipients, unions, immigrants and gays for your problems. And I think that sort of encapsulated the difference that I felt of the two conventions. You know, the first one painted a sort of homogenous society from a bygone era. This one painted a more diverse, inclusive society bound together by a shared experience, and that came together at the end with Obama's sort of vigorous defense of citizenship and shared experience in the American project or American experiment. So I thought that was sort of a very compelling vision for what America should aspire to become, especially as, you know, we come incredibly more diverse in the coming decades. I just think it painted a very effective picture of what that should look like compared to the GOP.

IZRAEL: Was I the only one? When I compare and contrast the RNC and the DNC convention, I get, you know, for the RNC, it reminded me when Darth Vader landed, you know, the first time...

VILA: All the white storm troopers?

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. But then the RNC kind of reminded me - I mean the DNC kind of reminded me of when Morpheus gave that big speech, you know, in the last "Matrix Revolutions," everybody's kind of, ah. You know, I mean, he just, they were just running on adrenaline. I don't know if they were listening to what he was actually saying. He was actually saying we're screwed, but let's party, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, everybody - everybody just starts dancing.

(LAUGHTER)

EALONS: I think that is apropos because the point that was made previously was the Democrats came in a bit demoralized. They've been not really sure about President Obama and his positions, but at the end of the day, I think they came out really, really energized after this convention and they are fired up and ready to get into the streets and do what they need to do. So I think you're right about that.

MARTIN: We're having our...

LOYOLA: Well, Jimi raises - this is Mario. Jimi raises another good point. As a conservative, I've always identified with the matrix in "The Matrix," you know, but that's a joke.

IZRAEL: Hey, and it's a funny one.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: If you have to tell people it's a joke...

EALONS: The system within the system.

IZRAEL: ...that's a clue. Go ahead.

MARTIN: OK. But Jimi, I should point out that your real people are now quoting "The Matrix" and "Henry V," and this is your real people. I'm just letting you know how real is it.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: OK. Speaking of real people, though, Fernando, I just ask you about this. Cristina, the talk show host from Telemundo, you know, the longtime talk show host on Telemundo, Cristina Saralegui, a speech that was not - she may not be as well-known in the English language audience. But just tell us a little bit about how important it was. I mean for me this is like seeing, you know, Oprah and Barbara Walters, you know, endorsing a candidate. I've never seen that before.

VILA: Yeah. I mean she is referred to as the Spanish language Oprah for a long time. She's actually a long time Univision host, just moved to Telemundo...

MARTIN: OK.

VILA: ...a couple years ago. But, yeah, I think the most remarkable part of that speech, I mean it was a very good speech as well. But I think the most remarkable part of that speech was that she was introduced by an undocumented immigrant, a girl named Benita Veliz. You know, she's an incredibly powerful story. She graduated valedictorian of her high school at 16, graduated from undergrad in college with honors at 20. And it's just a, it was just a very powerful affirmation of sort of the - of giving a voice to a community that sort of has been muzzled in the past and just an affirmation that they exist. And it was very, very nice of Cristina to allow Benita that position in her speech. It was just a wonderful moment, I thought.

MARTIN: Mario, do you have any point of view on that? Did you have any particular reaction to that?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean and, you know, Cristina is a very familiar face to Hispanic audiences in the United States and in Latin America. I think that it's a very, there's been sort of a subtext to both conventions. If you noticed, Marco Rubio's speech at the Republican Convention had a line in Spanish. A lot of the speeches by Hispanic leaders in both conventions had lines in Spanish and I think the Democrats, though, have been a lot more effective in reaching out to the actual audiences that, you know, that constitute the Hispanic community in America.

I have my doubts whether, you know, it's a risky tactic to celebrate, you know, legitimizing undocumented immigrants despite the fact that they're here illegally. And you know, but on the other hand, that's not a border control issue and when one of the biggest problems that Republicans have is when they go after the Hispanic undocumented immigrants as a class, they make the entire Hispanic community feel under attack, and that's something that they need to really think about moving forward.

MARTIN: We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're joined by contributor Mario Loyola. Fernando Vila is managing editor of Univision News in English. Writer Jimi Izrael, and former Obama administration communications advisor Corey Ealons.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK. OK. Enough of politics. Are you guys ready for some football?

EALONS: Oh, my gosh, yes.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

EALONS: Oh, yes.

IZRAEL: All right.

EALONS: Thank God football season is here.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: OK. All right. Well, NFL season kicked off Wednesday when the Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants.

MARTIN: You had to bring that up.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

EALONS: Not happy about that.

IZRAEL: Yeah. My son isn't either. He's a big New York Giants fan. Shout out to Jalin. Most teams play this week or on Monday. But the NFL is in a labor dispute with the referees, so we got to kind of go with the replacement refs this week. It sounds like a Walter Matthau movie.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: The head official for Wednesday night's season opener in New York is reportedly an activities coordinator at Sawtooth Middle School in Idaho. Aye.

MARTIN: I know. I know.

IZRAEL: Well.

MARTIN: So I have to ask, you know, what do you think? I mean, well, like I didn't watch Wednesday's game because I was watching the conventions...

(SOUNDBITE OF CLEARING THROAT)

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...as I know all of you were.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Right. I mean I was for sure.

EALONS: I was here so I absolutely was.

MARTIN: But I hear that they did OK. But I hear that they did OK, so I don't know. Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: I don't know. I mean replacement refs, I mean that's too much like replacement pilots. I mean it just sounds dangerous and not a game I want to play or even watch because it's like, you know, the refs are checking their, checking their - the Blackberries while, you know the plays are going on, or they're trying to Google the rules. I don't know. That doesn't, that doesn't sound like a recipe for compelling NFL TV.

MARTIN: Well, the serious issue here is that researchers recently tracked more than 3,400 retired players with five or more NFL seasons and they found that those players had a much higher risk for brain disease compared to older men their age. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. And, of course, there is this concern that these referees will not be able to adequately police these games and then protect the players. But, you know, just having said all that, I do have to ask, which - you know, there are like four games going on at once at 1:00. So which one are you going to watch, Jimi?

IZRAEL: One o'clock AM?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Corey, I'm sorry, can I just, let me ask a real fan.

IZRAEL: I'm not watching a lot of football these days.

MARTIN: Corey, can I ask a real fan...

EALONS: Please.

MARTIN: ...what are you going to be watching?

EALONS: Of course I'll be watching the Redskins this weekend and rooting for RG3. I think he's going to have a spectacular season. He had an OK preseason but I think that this is a kid who is just outstanding and exceptional in so many ways and I think he's going to have a good season, and hopefully the Redskins are on a comeback.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you like?

LOYOLA: The Packers.

MARTIN: I know. Why do I ask? Why do I ask? It's always the Packers. That's pretty much the answer to every question.

LOYOLA: And Jimi...

MARTIN: What are you going to have for lunch? Packers. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Go ahead.

LOYOLA: No, I was just going to say - Jimi, she's talking about 1:00 on Sunday, in the afternoon.

IZRAEL: Thank you for that, brother. You know, with the political...

LOYOLA: Just want - yeah...

IZRAEL: The political season as we all kind of, has my clock off. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Fernando, what about you?

VILA: I'm watching the Dolphins against the Texans. You know, we had hard knocks this year as a Dolphins fan, which made sort of probably the most uninteresting team in the history of the NFL sort of mildly interesting at least, so that gives me a little bit more of a reason to watch. Also we have a, you know, rookie quarterback for the first time, a rookie first-round pick quarterback pick for the first time since Dan Marino, which, you know, adds a little bit of more interest to the affair. But that's what I'll be watching.

EALONS: Hey, and he looked good on "Hard Knocks" too. He looked really good, so I'm interested in Miami as well. Yeah.

VILA: He does look pretty good. You know, I'm intrigued. I'm definitely, I'm definitely intrigued.

MARTIN: The Cleveland Browns are playing at 1:00, Jimi, if you were concerned about...

IZRAEL: Well, see, OK. Well, too, that explains why I couldn't remember because, you know, I am from Cleveland but, you know, a Cleveland sports fan is like, it's like a dinosaur. I mean you read about them, you've heard about them, but you know, you better take a picture if you see one because it's like, you know, we are a sad depressed bunch and...

VILA: Still bitter about Lebron. Still bitter about Lebron. It's OK.

MARTIN: Well, let me just briefly ask you guys...

IZRAEL: Go Browns.

MARTIN: Does the new - I have to ask this. Does the new research, all this research and all this conversation that we've been having about the brain trauma issue, does that give any of you pause? Does it make you more reluctant to watch or...

VILA: Definitely.

MARTIN: ...does it make you feel ambivalent about watching?

IZRAEL: As a father - this is Jimi. As a father, it concerns me because my son is playing football and I really want them to set an example for my son, you know, because he aspires to play college ball, you know, one day, so I want them to get this together.

MARTIN: Fernando, what about you?

EALONS: Jimi, I know exactly...

MARTIN: Anybody?

EALONS: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Corey? Go ahead. Anybody. Fernando, you were going and then Corey.

VILA: Yeah, I just - I mean I would be very, very nervous to let my, I don't have any children, but I would be very nervous to let my kid play football.

And it does make me a little queasy, you know watching the game now. I mean the research is just - it's absolutely staggering. And after watching, seeing what happened to Junior Seau, you know, it was just very heartbreaking and it makes me a little queasy watching the games.

MARTIN: Corey, what about you?

EALONS: I have to agree exactly with what Jimi said. My kid is only four but he's active in sports. He already plays soccer. And I played ball in high school, and looking at these guys now and the blows that they take at that level, I'm very, very concerned. So I'm hoping if he wants to play football, that the technology has increased dramatically by the time he's of playing age.

MARTIN: Mario, very briefly?

LOYOLA: Yeah. Well, I think on the other hand, you know, what the study said is that there is some statistical reason for thinking that head trauma may be related to Lou Gehrig's disease and to Alzheimer's disease. But let's not forget that we don't know what causes those diseases. And so, you know, this is sort of like further research is needed kind of thing. It's not like they have found a hard and fast causal link.

MARTIN: All right. Well, good. I won't be calling any of you on Sunday. Well, Jimi, yes, I will be. I'll be calling him to review Shakespeare citations.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for the Obama administration and currently a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm VOX Global. Mario Loyola is a former Pentagon speech writer, former foreign policy advisor to the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. He's now a columnist for National Review and director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Fernando Vila is the managing editor of Univision News in English. Thank you all so much.

VILA: Thank you, Michel.

LOYOLA: Thank you.

EALONS: Thank you, Michel. Be good.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

LOYOLA: Chow, chow.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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